Understanding the construction of artistic identity and how some people are recognised as artists and some objects/ideas and performances are recognised as art, while others are not, has led Emma to her current work exploring the spatial politics of art as well as young people’s engagement with contemporary art both in and out of the gallery space. In August 2016, Emma was appointed Early Career Academic Fellow in Media, Culture and Heritage.
Why did you choose to go into museum studies?
I didn’t! I originally trained in Fine Art at the Glasgow School of Art, then as an English Language teacher, and only after that started volunteering in museums and galleries. It seemed like the perfect job, so I did my MA here in Newcastle in Art Museum and Gallery Education and then worked as an intern in Glasgow for the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art (GI), the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts), and worked in the Theatre Royal at night. While I was doing that I put in the PhD application – I’d enjoyed my MA so much I wanted to come back – but I never really felt like I was choosing one particular field of study. Museum studies is really interdisciplinary, and in my work I tend to lean on everything from art history to cultural sociology to geography, as well as museum studies of course.
What are your plans for your fellowship?
One of the best things about the fellowship is that I have time to dedicate to a new research project. It’s called ‘Geographies of Art: The Spatial Politics of Artistic Practice’ and it explores something that became clear during my PhD research: art isn’t either global or local – or somehow placeless. Instead, artists are making all kinds of complex decisions based on nuanced understandings and experiences that relate to place in varying ways– and I’m interested in that lived experience and its implications for practitioners. The key things for me at the moment are sorting out a schedule, finding opportunities to work with artists both in the UK and internationally, and writing! I’d really like to write a book…
We’ve love to hear what you’ve been up to over summer. What exhibitions have you seen that have sparked your interest?
Oh no, that’s such a difficult question! Helen McCrorie’s The Clock in Commune as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival is one of the best things I’ve ever seen, I finally got to the new Tate Modern and the Louise Bourgeois Artist Rooms exhibition there, and Jennifer West’s Flashlight Filmstrip Projections at Tramway (which is in the dark – visitors are given a torch) was a new one for me, but it was great to see people getting so involved in the materiality of the work. I’ve also been to a lot of really good (and free) events and film screenings at the CCA in Glasgow as part of their series looking at art and society, but the highlight is going to have to be the Hermitage in St Petersburg – I’ve wanted to see the golden peacock for such a long time!
Have you had a busy year with conferences? What’s been your personal highlight?
I went to two really great conferences recently. The first, Networks in a Global World, brought together qualitative and quantitative researchers interested in network analysis, and it had a specific set of panels that looked at networks in relation to art – so a perfect opportunity for me to find out about ongoing work around the world! There was also a fantastic keynote from Ronald Breiger, and I completely changed my mind about the value and application of quantitative data. We need more quantitative researchers in the social sciences! The second was at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh, and was called Cultural Production: Diversity, Equality and Exclusion. There is a real urgency to this work and it can make for depressing reading at times, so it was great to meet so many people committed to change.
What books would we find on your desk at the moment?
My desk is covered with books at the moment (see picture) as I’m running a module later in the year that looks as art curation, and there are so many books to sort through to see if they might be good for the reading list! And then there are the books for my own research, and two new publications about artist-run initiatives… But these are all in my ‘to do’ pile (the ones I’ve read are either on the shelves or back in the library) so I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about them – yet!
As a teacher, what aspects do you most enjoy?
I tend to teach on the MA courses offered by MCH and a lot of our students are already in work or have extensive experience. We also attract students from all over the world, so when you are involved in a lecture or seminar where everyone starts sharing their expertise, that’s a fantastic feeling. I’m also really lucky in that I work on the exhibition module, where our students design and install a public exhibition. It can be quite an emotional process – there are so many decisions and practicalities to consider – but watching the work go up and everything come together is always so exciting. But I think my absolute favourite aspect is hearing what happens next. Our students have gone on to do some really amazing things, and that’s what it is all about in the end!
Thank you Emma.
More information on Emma Coffield’s current research can be found on her staff profile. Emma also co-convenes the Cultural Significance of Place group with Prof. Chris Whitehead and tweets @EmmaCoffield.